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There are too many wolves and bears, grumble European farmers

EU nature legislation has been too successful in protecting large carnivores like wolves and bears, wreaking havoc on commercial activities and other species, argue European farmers, landowners and hunters.

“Due to ongoing successful conservation measures, certain populations of large carnivore species are causing increased conflicts,” the groups said in a joint statement, bemoaning that EU legislation prevents them from implementing measures to manage species and help “reduce serious conflicts with livestock, people, and biodiversity-rich landscapes.”

The organizations argue that some large carnivores “no longer require strict protection” in the EU as “they are no longer considered endangered or vulnerable.” They want the Commission to adapt its Habitats Directive, which was adopted in 1992, to reflect species populations development and conservation status.

That’s angering environmentalists, who see it as an attempt to weaken what they say is a long-standing and efficient piece of EU legislation.

“It is basically just scare-mongering and hate-mongering,” said Ariel Brunner, head of EU policy at the NGO BirdLife Europe, calling the effort “absurd” and “shameful.”

Some large carnivores had been “wiped out” in many EU countries, he said, making their comeback a “huge conservation success story.” He also noted that the animals are crucial to ecosystems: Wolves, for example, help regulate populations of herbivores that “otherwise become too numerous and damage natural vegetation … and crops.”

Rather than amending the EU’s nature restoration laws, a mix of preventive measures, including electric fences, and compensation to farmers could address the issue, he said.

Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca, said in an emailed statement to POLITICO that the “rapid increase” of large carnivores “puts a critical burden on the safety, productivity and stress for many herds and farmers.”

The association estimates there are from 14,500 to 18,200 wolves in the EU — up from 12,300 in 2013.

“We do not wish to weaken EU nature conservation, we wish for European citizens to be protected, and for the lives of our livestock and the livelihoods of our farmers to be respected,” he said.

The push comes as Brussels is looking to increase its nature conservation targets. As part of its Biodiversity Strategy, it plans to place 30 percent of the bloc’s land and sea under protected status by 2030, including 10 percent under strict protection.

The Commission is also slated to make nature restoration legally binding in EU countries. The regulation, initially expected to be unveiled on Wednesday, has been delayed to “before the summer,” according to a draft agenda of the College of Commissioners dated March 20 and seen by POLITICO.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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